Bone Tomahawk (2015)
S. Craig Zahler’s ambitious genre-mincing Western has attracted a lot of praise, and not without justification. The ever-dependable Kurt Russell leads a pack of men on a rescue mission to recover a woman and deputy who’ve been taken prisoner by some unsavoury Native American cannibals. What follows is a mash-up of a Hawksian Western and an early 80s Deodato film; sound strange? well, it is one quirky effort.
Not for the squeamish given the sporadic yet vivid actions of brutality and gore, which bookend the picture form the start to finish, most of the film focusses on the posse’s ride out to locate the savages. It is, as such, more an in-depth character study of the protagonists and their motivations, and less a no-holds-barred cannibal Western. That said, Fulci fans may be pleased at the climax as a man is scalped and split in two right before our eyes.
These kinds of films – being so dependent on maintaining audience interest in the characters – can only ever work when the performances are strong, and they are indeed. Alongside Russell’s principled sheriff, Richard Jenkins provides witty comic relief – very much in the ilk of Walter Brennan’s ‘Stumpy’ from Rio Bravo (1959) – whilst a driven Patrick Wilson and chilling Matthew Fox complete the posse. These four protagonists are more or less who we spend the entire film with and it’s the ease at which they act together which is genuinely the glue that holds the whole thing together. The script is moody and is perhaps overly heavy due to the depth in the screenplay; with the best lines coming from Jenkins’ motor-mouthed old timer. In terms of the photography, its coolily crisp but at its best in the town at the beginning of the film.
There were problems for me. By concentrating so much on the group’s ride, Zahler neglects the atmosphere of the town of Bright Hope which he so effectively establishes in the opening 15 or 20 minutes – particularly in the Saloon scenes. Just as importantly, the lack of a score was clearly an explicit decision by the filmmakers but its absence doesn’t go unnoticed, and I couldn’t help feel that an appropriate choice here could have added a real dimension to the film.
In sum then, a meaty (excuse the pun) addition to cult cinema with a stupendous ‘scalping scene’, certain to go down in genre folklore.
Hotdog rating: 7.5/10